Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reverse Culture Shock

I'm back in the United States now, currently visiting my parents and sister in Michigan before the start of our community meetings and my last year of seminary. I still have a long list of blog entries I'd like to write about my time in Haiti and about projects going on there. Many people have asked how they can help, and I'll be posting more information about a variety of opportunities to do so, among other things.

Meanwhile, I'm experiencing the effects of my time there. On the way home from the Detroit airport, we stopped at Olga's for lunch (think Denny's or Friendly's with a Greek twist). The bill with tip came to around $50 for the four of us. Nearly a month's salary for a mission school teacher in Haiti, I thought as I walked to the car. And then yesterday, out of the blue, I nearly burst into tears in a coffee shop when we dropped $15 on coffee and dessert following a movie. A week's salary. My sister saw my face and didn't need an explanation: "It took Aunt Ellen a year to get over it when she came from the Peace Corps in Ecuador," she told me. It took me a few minutes before I could stop fighting tears and start enjoying my amazing dessert. I had ordered something with bananas because it reminded me of Haiti; perhaps I had been thinking about Haiti instead of Harry Potter, though I hadn't been particularly aware of it. What I'm going to do tonight at the Tigers game, I don't know: four tickets, four hotdogs, four cokes - at ballpark prices, how many weeks' salary would they cost for a mission school teacher in Haiti? Mission schools that may close if those salaries aren't found....

How do I best deal with this? In Detroit, I can console myself a little with the thought that the economy in this Motor City is in really bad shape. Elsewhere?

Will it take me a year? I can't go around bursting into tears every time I have to spend money.

But I don't want to get over it. I don't want to forget. I don't want to stop caring. I want to tell people about the wonderful things I've experienced, about the beauty of Haiti, about how proud I am to be an Episcopalian when I see what the church is accomplishing there. I also want to tell people that it is just not right that we are so unaware of the poverty at our doorstep.

Yes, I want to enjoy the gifts I am offered right now: time with family, potable tap water, cooler temperatures, extra sleep, good pastry, a baseball game, and so much more. In fact, I firmly believe that we all need to be aware of and enjoy those good things we take for granted. Perhaps if we were more aware of what we had, we would stop seeking more and instead find ways to increase our giving.

Yes, I will be glad when this reverse culture shock settles down, but may I never, never "get over" my time in Haiti.

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